Stinging Nettles

Photo courtesy US Forest Service

Hanis Coos: walláq’as

Milluk Coos: wálaq’as

Siletz Athabaskan: xwutlh-chish

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is part  the nettle family, Urticaceae. This herb grows in moist, nitrogen rich soils. It can grow as tall as two meters, but more typically reaches heights of 1 to 1.5 meters. Young plants often have reddish tinged leaves. Its leaves are opposite with coursely toothed margins. The underside of the leaves and stems have small hollow hairs that contain acids. Touching them causes a mild and uncomfortable burning sensation.

Traditionally, Coos Bay people treated rheumatism by applying the pounded roots to affected joints. 

Young nettles are edible, although they have to be cooked first to remove their ‘sting’.  Typically they are steamed or boiled like spinach.  I have found no references to Oregon coastal peoples eating young nettle greens, but they may have done so. Grace Brainard recalls gathering nettles in spring with her Milluk husband, Emil Brainard, to eat. She recalled that near the nettle patches were plants with furry leaves that when rubbed on the skin took away the stinging sensation caused by touching the nettles. 

Some tribal members today utilize dried nettle leaves for tea.

In western Oregon, dogbane (Apocynum), iris and cattail leaves seemed to be preferred for twine, but in parts of British Columbia nettles were used to make twine.  The plants were gathered in fall, when beginning to die back.  THe stems were stripped of leaves and laid in the sun to dry for several days.  Then the stems were worked to separate the fibers form the pitch and outer skin, pounded and worked into twine.


Grace Brainard interview, Nov 12 2000

Gunther, Erna. 1973. Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The Knowledge and Use of Indigenous Plants by Native Americans. University of Washington Press. Seattle, WA.

Stewart, Amy. 2009. Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC.

Turner, Nancy. 1998.   Plant Technology of First Peoples in British Columbia.UBC Press, Vancouver BC.

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